How a Dreamer Fell Through The Cracks

 Photo by Andres Reyes

If someone asked me what the proudest moment of my life has been, without a doubt I’d say the moment I received an acceptance letter from UC Davis. I vividly recall sprinting to the garage to tell my parents the big news. Two years later, I found myself back home in Merced, deep in student debt and without a degree, reflecting on where it all went wrong.

I was born in Mexico and came to this country when I was two years old. I am part of the generation known as Dreamers, undocumented students who were brought to this country by their parents at a young age. As I got closer to graduating high school, I was very aware that I would not be able to get financial aid and that my options for paying for higher education were very limited.

I was a good student at Golden Valley High School in Merced and received high grades in most of my classes, graduating with a 3.8 cumulative GPA. My worry was not as much that I wouldn’t get accepted to college, but that I wouldn’t be able to pay for it. My parents told me not to worry and just apply. A few teachers and counselors assured me that there are always opportunities. Thanks to the passage of the Dream Act in 2011, I could now receive financial aid.

But I found myself caught in a grey area. I got accepted into UC Davis in the fall of 2012 but the Dream Act, which allowed me to receive state financial aid, did not go into effect until January 2013. This meant I had to pay a quarter’s worth of studies out of my own pocket.

I applied for scholarship after scholarship and wrote essay after essay. It was an effort that took up a lot of my time, but it was worth it because I won enough local scholarships to pay for the complete tuition for the first quarter.

Everything at UC Davis started out well: I met new people, maintained decent grades, and was generally positive about the new experience of college. However, unbeknownst to me, my personal foundation began to crack during my first quarter and it was only a matter of time until the problems that were piled up spilled over.

I didn’t take into account the cost of living in Davis and had only enough money to pay for my tuition. I had to start relying on my parents for food and rent, knowing very well that my dad, a low-income construction laborer, already had to care for my three younger siblings. Knowing that I was spending money that my family needed weighed down on my shoulders but I tried to ignore it.

An added stressor was choosing a major. At first I wanted to study English, then neuroscience, and then something else and so on. Different majors kept grabbing my attention and I took courses I later regretted.

I was in social isolation as well. I made some superficial friendships but nothing real. I considered joining clubs to get out of my comfort zone but never committed to it, always telling myself that I should focus on what I was there to do––pass my classes.

By the second quarter, the stress began to take a toll. I was finally receiving financial aid, which helped, but my personal expenses still remained an issue. Rent checks began to bounce and despite my father’s attempts to reassure me that we would solve the problem, I could not help but worry. My grades started to suffer in some classes and it made me more negative, beginning a cycle of isolation and stress. I was often triggered by the fear of failure and loneliness.

I isolated myself even further. Leaving my apartment felt like a chore and all I wanted to do was remain within the sanctuary of my home. This mentality was self-destructive and earned me a meeting at the probation office because my grades had put me in academic risk.

When I entered the counselor’s office, I shared all my troubles with her and confessed to being on the brink of depression. She asked if I felt better and I said yes. She made me sign a form that said we had discussed this and told me that if I ever felt the same way again, I should go seek more counseling at student health services. It felt great to share my struggle with someone and I left feeling like I was ready to handle my business.

My third quarter started and I was trying my best to recover academically. Somewhere down the road, I cracked. My grades declined sharply. I started skipping some classes and I completely isolated myself from everyone. I’m not sure what made me slip, but once I slipped I never got back up.

My mother noticed I started calling less and less, but I assured her that everything was ok. It may be because of the culture I grew up in, but I never felt comfortable to share my personal problems. I’ve always kept those to myself and that remained true in those months.

I was in denial about my situation– I sometimes considered seeking help like the probation counselor had recommended, but I never went through with it. I think it was because of the stigma I felt around depression. My grades were at an all time low and I decided to drop out.

After the quarter was over, I had to tell my parents what happened. It wasn’t easy but my silence could not continue. Their reaction was supportive, but I could still feel the disappointment lying under the surface. I wanted them to shout, but they didn’t. They were good listeners and it was probably the most honest conversation I’ve ever had with them. I told them all the problems that I had until then kept to myself. It was a vulnerable moment that I needed in order to start my road to recovery

The UC Davis administration informed that I had to return my financial aid for that last spring quarter because of my academic performance. I owed them about $3000 that I did not have. Until I pay them back, my registration remains on hold and I cannot attend a UC school.

I feel responsible and I’m committed to paying my debt in full. I decided to move back to Merced and attend community college until I saved enough to pay back my debt and could return to a UC. However, finding a job in Merced that will work with a college schedule is difficult and my debt weighs down on me constantly.

I was initially cynical about attending community college, thinking I was downgrading from UC Davis, but it’s been a great experience so far. Rather than remain in solitude, I made the decision to join Movimento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan upon enrolling, a club that focuses on empowering Chicanos known as MEChA, and I have benefited greatly from it. My self-esteem has slowly climbed back up and my grades have improved as well.

I’ve decided to study economics and I want to use that to do something to help poor working class families, like mine. After one year, I became the president of the MEChA and I also joined student government. I want to use this momentum to land me back on track and continue my studies at a UC.

I now admit that I was naïve when I was at Davis. I was young, which is a strange thing to say considering that I’m only three years older now. I didn’t realize the weight I was carrying or how much it would wear me down. I felt pressured and feared failure above everything. I was afraid of not being able to afford college and was afraid of being alone.

I feel like more regular sessions with the academic counselor or some other kind of support would have helped me stay grounded in the long run. A one-time visit provided relief momentarily but looking back, I can see now how that just wasn’t enough for me.

Now that I’m back in Merced, I have been challenging myself to leave my comfort zone and I feel that I have matured a lot over these past couple of years. Being at home with the moral support of family and friends has made this easier for me.

Being smart isn’t the only ingredient for college success. Having enough financial aid isn’t the only factor either. Succeeding in college, like in any other part of life, relies on the right combination of many ingredients. And one of those ingredients is knowing when to reach out for help–so you don’t slip through the cracks, as I did.

Small Businesses Discuss What New ‘Global’ Campus Will Mean for Richmond

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News Report, Malcolm Marshall

Just as the city of Berkeley developed around the University of California, Berkeley, the planned Berkeley Global Campus at Richmond Bay is expected to be an enormous economic development opportunity for Richmond. But what can be done to ensure that it benefits the city’s small businesses? That was the question at the center of a breakfast meeting in August at the Richmond Civic Center, where about 75 local business leaders filled the room.

The breakfast, sponsored by Healthy Richmond and Richmond Main Street Initiative, in cooperation with UC Berkeley, invited local businesses to discuss how businesses can prepare for opportunities and growth from the new campus. The breakfast also provided a chance to hear from locals on what the Berkeley Global Campus could do to support Richmond businesses.

“There’s going to be a lot of money invested,” said Roxanne Carrillo Garza, Healthy Richmond hub manager. “We’re interested in making sure that business owners themselves had a chance to weigh in on what they need to really be successful and be able to compete for procurement opportunities.”

Biggest economic development since World War II


The Berkeley Global Campus at Richmond Bay is slated to be the largest economic development to come to Richmond since the shipyards of World War II. It will be built at the Richmond Field Station, a site on the waterfront just off the Regatta Boulevard exit of Interstate 580 that has sweeping views the San Francisco skyline. The development will span 152 acres, about three-quarters the size of UC Berkeley’s main campus.

According to the recent “Anchor Richmond” report by the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, the campus will likely become the largest employer in Richmond within a decade. By the year 2040, it’s projected to be at full capacity with a daily average of 10,000 workers, faculty, students and visitors.

A report by UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business estimates that construction costs could range between $520 million and $900 million. The “Anchor Richmond” report estimates that 2,700 jobs will be generated in the first phase (2014-2018) of construction.

How local businesses can prepare


“I think there’s a need for education, for workforce development, for helping businesses to build their capacities,” said Roesia Gerstein, UC Berkeley’s supplier diversity program manager.

Some groups are already working to give small businesses the tools they need to compete for campus contracts.

Among the attendees were representatives from small business development programs that offer local businesses training and technical assistance to help them compete for UC Berkeley procurement.

This fall, the city of Richmond is also launching the Richmond Build Contractors Resource Center, a new contractors’ capacity building center to help small, local contractors compete for jobs on large-scale public construction projects. According to the chancellor’s office, UC Berkeley plans to partner with the center.

Gerstein is also part of a committee where she represents UC Berkeley in discussions about how to support local businesses. The committee, which aims to draft procurement strategies and ideas, has recommended that UC Berkeley respond to the barriers that local businesses are facing.

Draft recommendations also include calling on UC Berkeley to set a specific goal for increasing procurement from Richmond businesses, partner with Richmond programs that build the capacity of local businesses to compete, and regularly address policies that may create barriers for small businesses to access these opportunities.

At the breakfast, Gerstein said she was energized by the amount of excitement and interest she heard from attendees.

“Part of the challenge,” said Gerstein, “is for us to work through the policies and the regulations and requirements that we have with the State of California and the federal government to able to use local businesses the best way possible.”

But some fear that Richmond’s local residents and businesses could be left out of the prosperity that the global campus will bring.

What happens in Richmond should benefit Richmond


Over a year ago, a coalition of concerned community members formed a group called Raise Up Richmond to make sure the campus is a win‑win for both UC and Richmond. They’ve sought to get UC Berkeley’s commitment to a Community Benefits Agreement that could include guaranteeing local hiring, a housing displacement fund, affordable
housing and the protection of longtime residents from displacement.

Earlier this year, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks committed to entering into a Community Benefits Agreement but what concessions, if any, that agreement will contain is still being determined.

“The stakes are very high for the people of Richmond,” said Todd Stenhouse, spokesperson for Local 3299 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “Whether it’s making sure there are good jobs in the community or making sure people aren’t displaced from their homes or making sure that small businesses have a chance to share in any prosperity that is connected to the project. Absent a CBA, there are no such guarantees that the project will realize its promise.”

Small business owners learning about new campus

Catahoula Coffee owner Timothy Manhart, who attended the breakfast, says he’s seen Richmond grow since he first opened his neighborhood coffee shop on San Pablo Avenue. He says he may not see a huge uptick in his business from the campus but is interested in the impact the campus will have on the overall Richmond community.

“When the housing collapsed, that’s when I started my business at Catahoula. Seeing all the turbulence that hit, what I saw as a benefit were young professionals who started seeking out Richmond,” he said. “That’s what I think will really help out the overall status of Richmond, just being the last affordable place that’s commutable distance to San Francisco to live.”

Carrillo Garza of Healthy Richmond said the business breakfast provided attendees with information on opportunities they didn’t know about.

For Salvador Moreno, who works at Pro Sound on 23rd Street doing car stereo and alarm installations, the breakfast was the first time he had heard about the planned UC Berkeley campus coming to Richmond. He said he came to the event in search of information about training to better serve his customers.

“Some trainings and connections with partners would help us most,” he said. “Training on how to use the Internet more. I’m just starting to learn it and now it comes with the new systems in the new cars so I need to learn a bit more to do better.”

Richmond resident Charlene Chabural, who works for local general contractor Overaa Construction, came to the event to network with other local business professionals.

“We’ve been following the story on the Richmond Global Campus and it’s something we’re very excited about,” said Chabural. “We know that it’s going to open up a lot of opportunities for our line of work and also for our subcontractors.”

“It really comes down to two things,” added Carrillo Garza. “It’s to make sure our local businesses thrive here and scale up so they can actually compete for these opportunities; and to make sure there are more jobs for our local residents. At the end of the day, we want to make sure that 1,000 people are getting hired for these business opportunities.”

How I Learned to Stop Littering… and Start Composting

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Commentary • Ronvel Sharper

Many teachers helped me through my sophomore year at Richmond High, two of them especially: Mr. Angel Ponce-Larsen and Mr. Richard Seeber. They tried their best to prepare students for the future in different ways, though students don’t see that most of the time.

Mr. Ponce assigns loads of work, pushing you to your limit, to help you reach or exceed your potential. For some, that’s absolute torture, but I really enjoyed being his student. I would have deliberately failed his class just so I could take it again — but that would have looked bad on my record, and my parents would have given me a huge lecture before taking away my phone (which is my life).

The same goes for Mr. Seeber. He isn’t a strict teacher — compared to Mr. Ponce, anyway — but he’s one who’ll never hate you at all. He stays laid back and even allowed us to use our phones during certain activities — like one time when he let us listen to music as we wrote essays.

They both emphasized two things: Mr. Ponce always hinted that he wanted us to push ourselves to great heights and be the best we could, while Mr. Seeber always told us to be positive, because there are many things to look forward to in life.

But together, they helped me get involved in making Richmond a more environmentally friendly place.

They introduced me to the Y-PLAN program, which stands for Youth — Plan, Learn, Act, Now! Y-PLAN engages teens in city planning projects and gives them an opportunity to research and present ideas to city officials.

Along with my biology teacher Clare Sobetski — who’s passionate about this kind of stuff — Y-PLAN has made me more aware of my environment.

I’d already worked with another environmental group called Earthteam, so I thought this would be all review to me. I was wrong.

Through Y-PLAN, I learned that environmental sustainability is about maintaining the conditions that let nature and human beings exist together — basically, peacefully coexisting with what we need for human life. But we also learned about individual subjects, dividing into groups that researched topics like “maintenance” and “compost.”

My group created a presentation about why composting has become important for the environment and sustainability, and how it can help make Richmond a more eco-friendly city. I knew from the start that we would create presentations based on our subjects — but I didn’t have a clue we would present to the mayor.

I suck at presentations, but we practiced and I improved my oral presentation skills a bit. When the big day came, my nervousness almost overcame me, until my group members “helped” by giving signs not to forget what I was supposed to say (such as dirty looks every time I stuttered). Now I’m always striving to help make Richmond a better community, and it was really fun, too.

Without these teachers to introduce me to Y-PLAN, I wouldn’t have known how bad the environment had become, wouldn’t have begun to care for it, and would probably be littering to this day.

Richmond Seeks to Bridge the Digital Divide

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News Report • Nancy Deville

The days when homework only required lined notebook paper, a No. 2 pencil and a bulky thick textbook are long gone. Now teachers assign homework that requires Internet access.

But when parents like Lourdes Avila can’t find room in the monthly budget for Internet service, they fear their kids will fall behind.

“We looked into getting Wi-Fi but it’s just so expensive,” said Avila, whose son Alejandro is a rising sophomore at Richmond High School. “Even if there’s a special when the prices go up after a month, it’s just not affordable for us. So far my son’s teachers have been pretty understanding but I worry about what will happen next school year. I try and get him as much help as I can.”

When Alejandro needs Internet access to finish a homework assignment, he’s forced to stay late after school or wait in line at the Richmond Public Library to use a computer.

City officials are working to help ease Richmond’s digital divide by providing free Internet service in underserved neighborhoods. One million dollars will be drawn from Chevron’s $90 million community benefits package to fund the initiative. No timeline is set for when the community Wi-Fi project will launch, as it will depend on when the funds will be allocated, city officials said. But the first phase will start in the Iron Triangle where more than 2,000 homes, or 40 percent of the neighborhood, are without broadband.

“There is a saturation of homes that are already paying for service, but we are looking to assist the community members that currently don’t have Internet access,” said Sue Hartman, information technology director for the city of Richmond.

“Internet shouldn’t be throttled with limited bandwidth for underserved communities and greater bandwidth for the folks that can afford it.”

Last year Building Blocks for Kids provided antennas that offer free Internet to a few households in the Iron Triangle. The city’s program would expand the Wi-Fi offerings.

The city’s broadband program will coincide with West Contra Costa Unified School District’s plan to distribute tablets to students starting in 2016-17 school year.

“Several other Bay Area cities have focused on external community Wi-Fi but Richmond is working to bring free wireless Internet inside the home,” Hartman said.

While the digital divide has narrowed dramatically in the past decade, one in five households in California still doesn’t have Internet access at home, according to a statewide Field Poll released last month. The findings reveal that those least likely to have Internet access at home are adults who have not graduated from high school, seniors, adults with disabilities, Spanish-speaking Latinos, low-income households and non-citizens. According to the poll, 79 percent of California adults have high-speed Internet at home, which is up from 55 percent since 2008.

The divide can also be traced to educational outcomes, a problem known as the “homework gap.” It’s an issue teachers are trying to balance. As they work to integrate technology into the classroom to better prepare students for the real world where computer skills are mandatory, teachers also don’t want to penalize those whose parents can’t afford Wi-Fi service at home.

“The district has done a lot to make sure students have equitable access to technology in schools so that gap is closing,” said Ben Gill, who teaches information technology at De Anza High School. “At-home Wi-Fi is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity and it really comes down to the haves and have-nots.”

Gill says he runs a paperless classroom and it can be hard for some to keep up.

“Those students that don’t have that broadband connection at home, they get creative and use their smartphones for a lot of stuff. But a lot of time, they can’t. So they end up behind and have to stay after school and have to give up other extra-curricular activities.

“A kid shouldn’t have to make the choice of playing football or doing their homework after school just because they don’t have broadband access at home.”

Finding Power

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By Ronvel Sharper

The Young Men’s Empowerment Group at Richmond High School, led by counselors Kawal Ulaneday and Lakeyssia Brown, taught me how to react in bad times, helped me when I felt trapped and made me—and the other people in my group—more conscious of our decisions and how we make them.

When I first joined this group, I didn’t really see the purpose in it. I didn’t think I would need it, because I didn’t think I’d ever be depressed or encounter situations so bad that I couldn’t help myself. I was wrong.

Since it began in 2013, the group has provided support and healing for youth who have experienced complex, traumatic experience in their lives. It is funded by the City of San Pablo and functions as a partnership between YMCA of the East Bay and the high school, to provide counseling services out of the campuses’ health center.

Ulaneday says the group is like a circle at school, where students can feel safe to be vulnerable and share their experience.

For me, it’s like therapy. We talk about our day and week, usually something different each time. At one meeting we talked about what inspires us, everyone listed masculine inspirational figures, but I said I was inspired by the ‘Powerpuff Girls.’ Rather than being teased for these feminine role models, I was accepted—one guy even said he’s also inspired by them. In addition, we also discuss how to help the community and let out anger in a productive way.

“We try to create safety for them and a feeling of connection with others,” said Ulaneday of the environment the leaders aim to establish for us students. “Symptoms of trauma can really affect young men’s ability to form relationships and also with having healthy sense of self.”

Recently, I found myself in a complicated situation in need of honest advice. If I hadn’t been part of the group I could’ve lost some great friends. But the guys offered practical help and now all I can say to them and the staff members is, “Thank you.”

 

Demonstrators Call for UC Campus to Benefit Richmond

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News Report • Keisa Reynolds | Photos • David Meza

Hundreds of people rallied in front of City Hall on June 4 to support a community benefits agreement for the proposed UC Berkeley Global Campus in Richmond.

UC Berkeley’s new campus will be the biggest economic development to come to Richmond since the shipyards of World War II. However, it presents a risk to locals because past projects have not benefited residents, according to Melvin Willis of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) who emceed the demonstration.

The community benefits agreement would allow residents to benefit from the economic and educational opportunities the new campus will bring.

The demonstration was led by Raise Up Richmond, a campaign started by a coalition of local leaders, clergy, families and students.

DSC_0146City council members Gayle McLaughlin, Jael Myrick, Eduardo Martinez, and Jovanka Beckles made remarks in support of the agreement. West Contra Costa School Board member Valerie Cuevas, Tony Alexander from California State Conference and NAACP, and Enedina Mendoza from Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO) were also among the speakers.

On April 30, UC Berkeley students occupied the administration building after Chancellor Nicholas Dirks refused to sign a community benefits agreement. In the Richmond Standard on May 25, Mayor Tom Butt wrote a response to an article written by Alice Huffman and reassured residents and supporters that UC Berkeley would enter legally binding agreements.

However, some fear that the agreement will not benefit residents of Richmond.

The family of Rev. Dr. Alvin Bernstine of Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church migrated to Richmond during World War II. “I stand on the shoulders of people who, over 70 years ago, were invited to participate in making ships,” he told the crowd. “[After the war] they built churches and businesses. They established [our] community, always believing Richmond and the Bay Area would see value in including them in the benefits of California living.”

Elements of the community benefits agreement approved by Raise Up Richmond include housing, jobs, training, small businesses, and education. But the Global Campus is likely to increase gentrification and displacement of longtime residents. To prevent that, community members say, the agreement should include an anti-displacement fund that guarantees affordable housing and protects longtime residents from eviction that would result from project development.

For Stephanie Hervey, rent increases have made it difficult to find a one-bedroom apartment in Richmond within her budget.

“I support the community standing up for their selves and for the people who are here. I think it’s in our best interests to be at the table. If you’re not the table, you’re on the menu. The fact that it’s unifying us, it’s making us stronger so that when we do have the opportunity to benefit from whatever’s here, we can enjoy it.”

“I want to see more jobs, more participation within the community, and more resources to help Richmond get back the way it was,” added Cordell Hindler, another resident. “I want this community to benefit from this ordeal.”

Speakers at the rally also discussed opportunities for higher education, saying that children and youth in Richmond deserve access to the resources UC Berkeley is able to offer. Council member McLaughlin noted that there are still not enough youth graduating high school and attending college. Raise Up Richmond has called for the community benefits agreement to include an Opportunity and Education Fund to help build career pathways for kindergarten to twelfth grade students and community college students.

Pastor Joan Thompson-Katzenberger from New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in North Richmond said there is a need for the campaign. “The community as a whole needs it. I look at the young people and they need what we had. They are the future generation,” she said, adding that the agreement would enrich lives. “I just want to see a change. If we provide the opportunity, change will come.”

UC President Urges State To Fund Expanded Enrollment

NAM: More students of color are graduating from California high schools than ever before who want to go to college. That’s good news. Is UC able to accommodate the demand?

Napolitano: We’re seeing increasing numbers of California high school students graduating…and they’re increasingly diverse. The fastest growing are Latinos, but we’re also seeing growth in applications from Asian Americans – Filipinos, Chinese, Vietnamese and others. More and more students are taking the required courses so they’re eligible and they’re applying. We want to enroll as many of these students as we can.

NAM: What are you asking the state to do? 

Napolitano: We have a plan that would enable us to meet the demand. We’ve asked the legislature to increase state funding by $50 million this year and $50 million next year to expand in-state student enrollment by 10,000 students over the next four years.

NAM: What’s your read on what the legislature will do?

Napolitano: Sacramento has realized that higher education has to be a priority. I’m sympathetic to the legislators because they have so many conflicting demands.Nonetheless when you look at the prison budget and compare it to higher education, that needs to change. The legislators have the opportunity to expand enrollment to the best university in the world.

NAM: There’s some concern that students who do get accepted don’t get their first choice of campuses…They want to go to UC-Berkeley or UCLA but they are assigned to Merced.

Napolitano: The schools in the UC system are at different levels of maturation. The student experience at Merced is exceptional because it’s the newest campus and a smaller student body. Students who attend are pioneers, building the kind of legacy that the older campuses already have. The number one major at Merced is biology – so it’s drawing large numbers of students who want to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, math).

NAM: UC is the premiere institution training the future educated class in California. What are you seeing that encourages you and what worries you?

Napolitano: Some 42% of our students are first-generation collegestudents. That’s an astounding number. Our applications are at record high numbers led by the growth in Latinos and Asians… I am worried about our African American communities. The number of African Americans going to four year colleges is dropping across the nation, particularly African American males. The dramatic increase in Latino enrollment reflects in part the growth in that population. That’s not been true for African Americans.

NAM: Is UC actively involved in trying to address these disparities?

Napolitano: We’re actively reaching out to communities across the state. There are so many families that think they can’t afford UC. We’re letting them know that we offer substantial financial aid…We’re also doing a lot with community colleges., We have identified community colleges that aren’t sending many students to UC campuses and we’re looking to expand that effort.

NAM: Many middle class parents feel their children won’t get into the UC—they’re not poor enough to get scholarships and they’re not rich enough to afford it.

Napolitano: Housing costs are a key factor since a number of our campuses are located in very affluent areas like La Jolla and Santa Cruz. We’re looking to build more housing dorm units. We’re also actively looking at ways to ensure students don’t graduate with debts, although I always remind students that getting a diploma with debt is very different than buying a new car with debt. With the diploma the value only increases, whereas the car loses value the minute you drive it out of the dealership.

NAM: More women are now enrolled in college than men. Are you seeing an emerging gender gap in UC admissions, with women on the ascendance and does that worry you?

Napolitano: That’s an important question. I want to look into that.

NAM: There’s some concern that foreign students and out of state students are taking up the slots of in-state students. What’s your perspective?

Napolitano: Foreign students, out of state students, enrich the entire college experience. UC is very much a global university.
I like to say that we teach for California, we research for the world.

NAM: CP Snow’s Two Cultures 70 years ago warned against an imbalance between science and the humanities in our culture. Today, we are witnessing technology in the ascendance, and the humanities feeling very threatened. What’s UC doing to address this?

Napolitano: One of our goals has to be to produce well educated people. There’s no question that students graduating with a computer engineering degree will earn more money
than the student with a degree in English. But there’s more to life than how much money someone makes.

NAM: What’s your greatest source of satisfaction after two years as UC president?

Napolitano: Furthering the mission of educating today’s students. I’ve done a lot of things in my life, and this is the most satisfying.

For more information, go to http://www.uc4ca.org

Q&A: How Principal Evans Helped De Anza Set the Gold Standard

Interview • Malcolm Marshall

photo credit: De Anza High School

photo credit: De Anza High School

EDITOR’S NOTE: Richmond’s De Anza High School recently received a Gold Ribbon Schools Award from the California Department of Education. The award recognizes schools that have made gains implementing the academic content and performance standards adopted by the State Board of Education.

According to the West Contra Costa Unified School District website, De Anza has seen significant improvement in several key indicators in recent years, including a nearly 5 percent increase in its graduation rate and a nearly 10 percent reduction in its dropout rate.

Richmond Pulse interviewed De Anza principal Robert Evans at a recent school board meeting where he and members of his staff were honored for the achievement. Evans says teaching remains his first love. He arrived at De Anza five years ago to “give back to the Bay Area community and try to help raise kids the proper way.”

Richmond Pulse: What is the most important thing you brought to De Anza?

Robert Evans: The biggest thing we lacked was developing relationships. My philosophy is once you’ve built relationships, then we collaborate to have communication. I don’t care how smart a kid is, I don’t care how difficult a parent is; once you break down the walls and develop trust, everybody can work together to collaborate and you come out successful, because then you develop into [a] community as a team.

RP: How do you define success?

RE: We talk about teaching the full student. It’s got to be academics, obviously; but you have social skills, athletic skills, you’ve got to find out — whether it be music skills, visual performing arts — what drives a kid, each kid. That means you’ve got to get personal, to understand what drives each child and what those strengths are, their passions. Why do they want to come to school? You have to give children a reason to want to come to school every day, so [that] it’s exciting. When we did that, we saw our attendance rate go up. The kids want to be there.

With teachers, my philosophy is to point them [to] their passion — because if it’s their passion, it’s not work for them. All I do is just kind of corral them and point them in the right direction and let them go.

RP: What has changed the most on campus?

RE: I see a change in the culture, kids focusing on their academic grades, because now on campus it’s cool to be smart. It’s not cool to be dumb. They’re like, “I’ve got my 4.3, I’ve got my 3.8.” Struggling kids going, “Mr. Evans, I got a 1.9, I got to get to a 2.” Having over 50 percent of your kids make honor roll and the principal’s list, that means over 50 percent are over 3.0 and 3.5. Those are the things I’m excited to see.

RP: So many teachers and administrators burn out over time. Where do you get your passion from?

RE: It’s just been very exciting for me. I just go 100 miles an hour, whether it’s in the morning or late at night. We do a lot of things at football games, basketball games, soccer games — you try to be at all of those different types of things. Then you’ve got to focus on them in the classroom as well. You look at every single kid and say, “Which way do they learn? What’s their learning modality?” Then you have to take an array of teaching strategies and match those things.

It’s the same thing with my staff. I look for staff that that have excitement. You’ve got to be motivated. I tell teachers all the time it’s like being on stage: You’ve got to go 100 percent all the time, because you’re “on”. It takes a lot of energy, a lot of strength — but whatever it takes, you’ve got to do that.

RP: You are now moving on to work in the district office. What’s next for you?

RE: Since I just officially got a new promotion into the district office, my role now is to help move the [entire] secondary program of West Contra Costa in the same direction that we took De Anza. I’m going to be the coordinator of educational services in the secondary schools.

RP: Is it bittersweet to leave De Anza?

RE: Yeah, it is. When you’ve had a family that you’ve really been excited for, you don’t like leaving. But at the same time, it’s an opportunity to help more of the district. It was like when I left teaching: I was a teacher, and then I became an assistant principal to help the school overall. So now [it’s] just a larger role, and I can help more people.

What Are Students Eating? A Teen Research Team Looks To Find Out

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By Chanelle Ignant

A team of high school students from across the West Contra Costa Unified School District is asking: “What are we eating?”

Teens from the nonprofit group YES Nature To Neighborhoods have conducted a research project into the nutrition of meals served in the district’s 11 high schools.

Gustavo Chavez, a sophomore at De Anza High School and member of the organization’s “youth engagement team”, said many of his peers don’t prefer the school meals, a view that inspired the eight-student team to get involved.

“A lot of people really dislike them, so we tried to figure out what’s inside of them and how can we change them to make them better,” said Chavez.

According to Chavez, this push to improve lunches reflects the connection between nutrition and academic performance.

“We want better quality school lunches, so that kids aren’t going through their day without nutrition, so that they can perform better,” he said.

According to Director of Food Services, Barbara Jellison, over 3.3 million lunches were served to students throughout WCCUSD during the 2013-2014 school year. With an impact this great, the Richmond Food Policy Council — which works to ensure that the local food system reflects the needs of the community — described the district’s cafeteria system as “the biggest restaurant in the county”.

Students, however, say the restaurant doesn’t please its patrons.

Most kids don’t eat school lunches,” said Gillian Linsy, a senior at Pinole Valley High School and fellow member of the Youth Participatory Action Research project, an annual program at YES that focuses on wellness in the Richmond community. “They would rather bring something from home or not eat at all.”

The project intends to address this disconnect.

“The ultimate goal is to raise awareness and put pressure on the administration to continue to work towards healthy lunch for all the students,” said Adam Smith, assistant youth coordinator for the team.

For their research, students used pictures of lunches to create a photo-voice presentation. They also interviewed Jellison, as well as cafeteria staff throughout the district about the process of making lunches.

The students, however, said the staff couldn’t answer some of their questions.

“Sometimes they wouldn’t even know,” said Chavez. “Not even the cafeteria members know how the food is made.”

The students also researched the nutrition of the food served each week — and discovered that they couldn’t find the information online.

Likewise, the district’s limited financial resources surprised researchers the most. According to their findings, schools have $3 per student for a lunch — but half of that goes to labor.

“Only about $1.50 for students, just to eat a full lunch,” Chavez said. “That’s their main meal [for the day].”

Team members continue to compile their findings, and plan to share them with the local food council as part of its campaign for healthy school food.

This year’s research project joins a similar student project last year by the Urban Nutrition Initiative, the youth leadership arm of the Bay Area Resource Center. Those students, mostly from Gompers Continuation High School, also investigated the district’s school lunch quality, interviewing their peers about cafeteria food.

Claire Zurlo, youth coordinator at the resource center, said last year’s project gave students the opportunity to reach out beyond their small campus.

“It was helpful for them to do something that impacted the rest of the district,” she said.

Linsy confirmed that students are happy to make a difference.

“I think that just getting our voices heard is big, and hopefully [we’re] making a change,” she said.

Students Weigh In On School Spending Priorities

Compiled By David Meza

At a recent town hall meeting, West Contra Costa Unified School District students had the chance to give their direct input into how educational money should be spent for the upcoming 2015-2016 school year.

The April 16 meeting at Helms Middle School in San Pablo, also gave students information about the Local Control Funding Formula, the new state law put into effect in 2013 that dramatically reformed the way California funds its schools — focusing on high-need students, such as those from low incomes, English learners and foster youth.

As part of the new law, school districts must develop a Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), which requires school districts to engage parents and students before finalizing plans for spending priorities.

Richmond Pulse asked students at the town hall about the needs of their schools and how they would like to see money spent. Students said they want more engagement with their schools and more effective ways of learning.

 

DSC_0004“I think the money should go towards training for teachers. Teachers have their credentials, but professional development can teach them how to teach their students better.”

Darell Waters, 17, Gompers High School

 

DSC_0005“I’m a community person, so I think that we need to mix the community and school together. I want to see programs and clubs that get funding so students can go out and volunteer and represent our school and our district.”

Francisco Ortiz, 17, Kennedy High School

 

DSC_0024“I definitely think the money should go towards the academies. They help students prepare for careers they want to seek in the future. They are trying to close the ROTC academy, so I’m working with some students to make sure it stays open.”

Dayjah Burton, 16, DeAnza High School

 

DSC_0007“A lot of the money should go to more clubs and after-school activities that would get us interested [in] getting work done but having fun at the same time. Something like combining sports and a science project. I know my generation is lazy, so I feel if we use social media, or technology, and tie it into our schoolwork, that would help us concentrate more.”

Isaiah Noel Johnson, 16, Gompers High School

 

DSC_0012“For my school, I think books and after-school activities like clubs. For example [in] my chemistry class, we never have enough books for everyone. After school, I think we have an extra credit program, but I think more things to do after school would be good for us.”

– Ashley Raylene Samano, 17, Gompers High School